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The Criminal Law of Ancient Rome

The Criminal Law of Ancient Rome - O.F. Robinson Good stuff, very precise in citing reported cases & surviving statutes. But not for the beginner. I'm an attorney and have a classics background, and some of this was onerous (but in a good way). Fault is mine, rather than the text's, which warns very plainly in the preface that it assumes the reader has access to the [b:Oxford Classical Dictionary|301227|The Oxford Classical Dictionary|Simon Hornblower|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348530318s/301227.jpg|292292] and the [b:Dictionary of Roman Law|4868988|Encyclopedic Dictionary of Roman Law (Transaction of the American Philosophical Society) (Transaction of the American Philosophical Society) (Transaction of the American Philosophical Society)|Adolf Berger|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348177551s/4868988.jpg|4934335] (x). Sadly, I have neither, and my interpretation certainly suffers thereby.

That said, much very useful consideration of jurisdictional questions initially (this is the most difficult bit)--involving the establishment of very many subject-matter courts of perpetual jurisdiction. Oh, we have a spike in incendiarii? Well, we need a special court for it. Too much ultra vires fucking? Give us an adultery court. And so on. Fantastic stuff. Text thereafter develops substantive law, always with an eye on the related questions of forum, standing, prescriptive periods, sufficiency of evidence (shown through case citations), and penalties.

Roman criminal law is alien to the US. The former relies on a system of private prosecution, either in private fora (such as within the domestic jurisdiction of the paterfamilias) or in the public courts, pushed forward by private prosecutors. This means that private persons with standing (and there are plenty of folks who lack public standing) might bring a criminal action. Choice of action is crucial in some cases, as the burdens and results might differ between the parallel civil and criminal actions.

Rome appears to have lacked a system of public prisons generally (though there are indications of some carceral institutions). Penalties therefore ranged from fines, (usually proportionate to the money involved in the offense, or proportionate to the assets of the defendant) through relegation to a nasty place (i.e., temporary exile), loss of status/rank, interdiction of fire & water (i.e., permanent banishment & outlawry), terms of forced labor on public projects, condemnation to the mines (i.e., forced labor and then death through work), plain death penalty, and the aggravated death penalty, which involved not only a heinous, slow death, but also confiscation of property. Not quite British attainder, but getting there. Death penalty tended to be creative, and the worst is the punishment for parricide, culleus: being sewn in a sack with feral animals and dropped into the sea.

Comical, in a nasty way, that some periods of Roman law appear to have criminalized status: pimps, prostitutes, actors, astrologers, religious groups of certain sorts, philosophers, rhetoricians, & mathematicians (no shit) even. Odd, also, that persons are not equal before the law: wealth, status/rank, place, sex, profession--all make a difference. (By contrast, we make age distinctions, which Rome also had.) Penalties for slaves and proles might be death, whereas top-hats might get a half-your-estate fine. Bizarre also that some folks are "below the law": pimps, prostitutes, and so on lack criminal responsibility under some statutes, which means that they also lack the right to inherit under the terms of a will, for instance.

Discussion of incest and adultery is fascinating, as are the sections of religious crimes and currency-based offenses. Law of treason (perduellio v. maiestas) is tremendous, with plenty of political consideration throughout.

Much discussion and fine distinctions made regarding actions for iniuria, vis, rapina--hard to follow at times, and likely requires a close lawyer-school reading with the classical dictionaries on hand. For the casual reader, the recitation of the basic criminal offenses and the facts of particular cases is likely to be extremely entertaining in itself. It is hard to exaggerate the coolness of the reported cases; the fact patterns and permutations of liability are a pleasure to read.

Definitely recommended for those involved with serious study of the ancient world and with law.